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Catholic Review of: The Courage To Be Catholic

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Author:  George Weigel

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This item received 5 stars overall. (09/07/2009)

Orthodoxy: Completely orthodox.
Reading Level: Advanced

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Historical Roots of the Scandals in the American Catholic Church

Evaluator Comments

In A Nutshell

In the first months of 2002, reports of sexual misconduct perpetrated by Catholic priests in America filled the secular news. These reports were widespread and seemingly endless; one story broke after another, almost daily. Faithful American Catholics were shocked, scandalized, and many were enraged. Somewhat surprisingly, much of the anger generated was directed toward American bishops. The Catholic population in America was irate to learn how irresponsibly many bishops had handled the problem of sexual crimes perpetrated by priests under their care. The bishops’ failure to act like apostles—they acted more like branch managers, even while the scandals were breaking—caused what George Weigel calls “the greatest crisis in the history of the Catholic Church in America.” How are we to understand this crisis and what can the average Catholic do about it? By clearly identifying the problem, explaining its historical roots, and proposing a bold and exciting agenda for complete reform, The Courage to Be Catholic provides fascinating answers to these questions. With its intelligent analysis and its open invitation to join the “great adventure” of orthodoxy, this book is an outstanding contribution to the Catholic Church in America.


On the opening page, which is usually reserved for a dedication, George Weigel writes, “For all those who will contribute to the genuinely Catholic reform of the Church in the United States. You know who you are. Be not afraid.” This inspiring dedication simultaneously brings to mind the Gospel passage, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me …” (Jn. 10:27), as well as John Paul II’s repeated message to the Catholic faithful, “Be not afraid.”

Chapter one identifies the problem with the Church in America today as a double-edged crisis of priestly sexual misconduct and a failure of episcopal leadership. Weigel emphasizes that a “crisis” is an opportunity for reform.

Chapter two makes clear what the crisis “is not”; namely, it is not caused by celibacy, it is not a product of “authoritarian” leadership, nor is it a failure to implement Vatican II in accordance with modern liberal interpretation. It is not a “pedophilia” crisis, it is not a creation of the media, and it is not a sign that the Church must change its sexual ethic.

Chapter three considers how the crisis came about. This chapter examines the history of orthodoxy and dissent within the Catholic Church in America since the publication of the papal encyclical on sexual morality, Humanae Vitae.

Chapter four is an intelligent analysis of the bishops’ failure to act as apostles. Weigel points to a crisis of identity among Catholic clergy, bureaucracy, politics, a lack of imagination, and other root causes of the critical failure in episcopal leadership.

Chapter five turns to Rome and considers some of the breakdowns in communication that occurred while the scandals were breaking.

Chapters six, seven, and eight propose a bold agenda of reform: for seminaries and novitiates, for the priesthood, and for bishops and the Vatican, respectively.

The final chapter of this book proclaims the death of dissent and its culture of wishy-washy Catholicism in America. It heralds the coming of a new age of orthodoxy and invites the reader to join the “great adventure.”


George Weigel is a fine writer and The Courage to Be Catholic is an example of his clarity, his intelligence, and his zeal. Weigel captures the reader’s interest whether he writes about the inner workings at the Vatican or the scandal of priestly misconduct. His penetrating analysis puts the crisis in a rational perspective and his zeal for orthodoxy is a welcoming invitation to answer the call to holiness. Overall, this book is filled with hope for the future of the Church in America—a true hope; a hope that has basis in reality, in history, and in the Gospel message. 

Evaluator Comments

The Courage to Be Catholic stands head and shoulders above any other treatment of this topic to date. While Michael Rose’s book, Goodbye, Good Men, was written prior to the outbreak of scandal, many may be tempted to read his book in search of answers. There may be some answers in Rose’s book, but those answers are not nearly as informed as the answers found in The Courage to Be Catholic. Weigel analyzes his topic from the perspective of a theologian and a historian, placing these scandals in a larger, more rational context. The exposition style of investigative journalist Michael Rose tends to elicit strong emotions in the reader but at the same time lacks a viable framework in which to understand and direct these emotions.  The Courage to Be Catholic, on the other hand, does not evoke strong emotions so much as enlighten the faithful to serious problems within the Church and encourage everyone, in whatever state of life, to live holier lives. I highly recommend this intelligent and exciting book. 

 You can purchase this book here.

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